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Building ‘Brand Morocco’

Malcolm Allan discusses a recent conference on building Brand Morocco

By Malcolm Allan

On 27 May in Casablanca, the Ministry of Industry, Trade, Investment and the Digital Economy of the Kingdom of Morocco, Maroc Export and the Amadeus Institute held the first annual conference on developing a strategy for Brand Morocco.

As MD of Placematters, I was invited to contribute to the discussion. Specifically, I was asked to talk about how a national brand can raise awareness of the country’s products for export. I also explored how country of origin products can raise awareness of the national brand. Here are the high points of the conference discussion, along with my perspectives.

Opening up the discussion on building Marque Maroc to an audience of key domestic stakeholders and foreign interests – investors, manufacturers, tourism bodies and brand practitioners like myself, was a brave move from the Moroccan government. They were happy to invite comment, criticism and ideas for further brand development. This is an innovative approach in comparison to the UK, which has no formal brand strategy and no ongoing public conversation on what a UK brand strategy might look like.

We heard from 27 contributors in four ‘conversation sessions’, where four or five commentators discussed a key topic guided by a moderator. This format proved informative and democratic with no one dominating the discussion, everyone having their say and building on each other’s points in a positive way.

The four sessions focused on:
1. How to build the “Made in Morocco” label to promote the Kingdom as a modern democracy and also to promote its contribution to global prosperity, particularly its initiatives to support the development of other countries in the African continent
2. How might “Soft Power” contribute to the development and growth of the country’s intellectual capital?
3. How might the development of Marque Maroc be a catalyst for Africa’s nation branding?
4. What are new opportunities to develop and promote Morocco’s nation branding?

Discussion on the first topic identified the importance of Moroccans’ modelling the values of their national brand through actions and behaviours, especially when involved in outreach activity such as cultural visits, trade promotion tours, selling exports of Moroccan goods and services, and studying in foreign countries. These are all activities where Moroccans can be ambassadors for their national brand. The emergence of Morocco as a responsive modern democracy was cited many times as a key factor for changing public opinion and awareness outside the country about its positive progress, and a very positive context for other brand initiatives.

When addressing the second topic, the conversation highlighted Morocco’s developing reputation as an exporter of creative ideas, creative and innovative people to other African countries and its increasing role as a location where students from other countries in the continent come to study. Making a positive contribution to African development was cited numerous times during the day as a key objective of the national brand. Moroccans are very proud of this objective.

Morocco reflected its focus on soft power as a core vehicle for deploying the national brand by hosting the forthcoming global climate change conference later this year, an issue that the country takes very seriously as part of its brand development strategy. This event provided an opportunity to showcase many offers from Marque Maroc to the visiting government delegations over the eleven days of the conference.

On the third theme, delegates highlighted the opportunity for Morocco to share its experience with other African countries in addressing the many challenges it had faced to date in developing its national brand development strategy. These included raising awareness of Morocco’s development as a modern manufacturing and digital economy, raising awareness of its commitment to higher standards in educational provision and attainment and its commitment to democratic government in a modern monarchy.

Conversationalists identified a number of initiatives which should be developed to develop the national brand, the fourth of the themes. These included the need for greater ambition as a country, the need to expand Morocco’s role in the development of sub-Saharan Africa, the opportunity to model effective national brand development and increased sharing of brand Morocco’s development intelligence and know-how.

The conference was a bold move from the various central government ministries involved in developing the national brand. It acted as a vehicle for thoughtful conversation on:
1. Widening involvement from the private sector and bodies representing civic sectors in the brand Morocco development process
2. Critiquing brand development to date
3. Inviting ideas for developing initiatives that would exemplify brand Morocco
4. Being much more focussed in the marketing of the country’s core and image defining brand offers and the selection of key external target market audiences for those offers

At the end of the conference the mood was buoyant. Delegates were discussing how they might contribute to national brand development, how Morocco needs to be more ambitious in its development and its contribution to the rest of the world, and how to further harness the energy and creativity of its people as ambassadors for brand Morocco.

From a personal perspective I was left with a mix of reactions and emotions. I was delighted to have been asked to contribute to the conversation and impressed by the energy placed on harnessing the talents of this nation. At the same time, I felt depressed that my own country, the UK, is failing to develop its own national brand strategy to promote the creative talents of its people in the positive way that Morocco is doing, preferring an advertising campaign on how ‘great’ it is to one that focuses on its contribution to the rest of the world.

Japan plays it cool


Last month, Tokyo dashed the Olympic hopes of Istanbul and Madrid by winning the right to host the 2020 Games. The victory was a significant confidence booster for Japan, recently troubled by economic problems and the aftermath of Fukushima. Even before Tokyo was announced as the winner, Japan had already been rebuilding its national brand. ‘Cool Japan’, the term coined by journalist Douglas McGray back in 2002, is making a resurgence.

The goal was to learn more about the new Japanese brand campaign from the people who understand it best. Placesbrands spoke to Noriyuki Shikata, Political Minister at Embassy of Japan in the UK and former Director of Global Communications at the Japanese Prime Minister’s office in London. Mr Shikata started his career on assignment in Washington D.C. as a press officer for the Japanese government, often accompanying the Japanese Prime Minister on overseas visits. Mr Shikata is greatly interested in Japan’s decision to engage in a new nation branding campaign. He kindly agreed to share his views with Placesbrands.

Placesbrands: Mr Shikata, it’s been over ten years since the original ‘Cool Japan’ theme came into being. Why has Japan waited until now to launch a new soft power strategy?

Noriyuki Shikata: In the last few years there has been renewed appreciation for the potential of Japan to brand itself as a nation. There is increasing worldwide appreciation for Japanese culture, especially Japanese food. The focus has not necessarily been solely on traditional goods such as cars and electronics, but on exporting Japan’s cultural assets. The Cool Japan campaign hopes to increase levels of both tourism and of foreign direct investment, and aims to combine tradition with modernity as the central brand themes.

Additionally, the concept of the ‘smart city’ will be another key focus point for Japan over coming years, and will be presented via Tokyo 2020 and beyond. Of course, the economic difficulties suffered in recent years have been one driving factor in the decision to reinvigorate the Cool Japan brand. Hard economic conditions make one think harder about what society can offer, beyond just products and services.

Who are the campaign’s key target audiences?
When implementing the campaign Japan does not wish to limit the target audiences, but instead seeks to export its culture on a global scale. For example, Japan views London as a great centre/hotspot for Japanese nation branding, where Japanese restaurants are spreading and developing offerings that go beyond the stereotypical sushi.

Has Japan identified any new markets for ‘Cool Japan’ soft power?
In Latin America there is an increasing appreciation of Japanese culture, for example Brazil’s Sao Paulo has the largest overseas Japanese community in the world – 1 million. Peru and Mexico also have strong Japanese influences, as do various Eastern European countries including Russia. Many of these countries have a growing emerging middle class, who are watching Japanese anime, playing Nintendo and so on.

How does Japan handle the dilemma of blending tradition with modernity?
Firstly, Japan is always committed to retaining its traditional aspects. For example Kyoto (my hometown) is renowned for its historic buildings, temples, and shrines. But nevertheless Japan also wants to introduce modern elements to draw tourists in, with the aim for them to discover Japan’s history/culture/language once they arrive in country. As well as this, the concept of “hyper-Japan” is very popular, such as Japanese costumes, dressing up, Harajuku. The V&A museum in London has exhibits of some Japanese costumes, which once again points to strong cultural fusion between the UK and Japan.

Back in the 1970s, David Bowie introduced Japanese fashion to the UK with his collaboration with designer Yamamoto Kansai. There are lots of other examples. Some of the Impressionist painters, such as Renoir, were influenced by Japanese traditional art. Anime tradition, often viewed by the West as a modern art form, actually stems from ancient Shogun times.

Once again the UK is a key participant here, with lots of anime displayed in the Japan Gallery in Paddington. “Netsuke”, traditional objects from the Shogun era, came from the late 19th century when Japan finally opened up to the outside world. British explorers brought Netsuke back home with them, where they ended up in the British Museum. (The book “the Hare with the Amber Eyes” is all about Netsuke).

All these examples display the core themes of Japan’s national brand: fusion between tradition + modernity. The former informs and creates the latter.

Tokyo won the right to host the 2020 Olympics. How will this affect the ‘Cool Japan’ campaign?
Decision-makers in Japan and Tokyo are very excited about learning from London’s Olympic experiences. These will be a key informing factor for the Cool Japan campaign. The plan is to combine the Cool Japan campaign with Tokyo 2020 and welcome even more visitors to Japan. In 1964 Tokyo won the Olympics when Japan was a developing country still feeling the effects of WW2. Japan borrowed from the World Bank to host the Olympics. It is said that ‘New Japan’ started developing from that point on.

For the 2020 edition, there will be great modernisation and massive reforms of Tokyo in the run-up to 2020, paying strong attention to the environmental factors and the goal of Tokyo becoming a ‘smart city’. Good public transport has always been key for Japan, in fact, Japan got its first train link 150 years ago. This will be improved further during the run-up to the Games.

How did the Fukushima disaster affect Japan’s overall nation brand?
To be honest, the problems are still not completely solved. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is confident this will not affect Tokyo’s successful hosting of the 2020 Olympics, and Japan will be fully capable of ensuring full public safety.

What role will social media play in the Cool Japan campaign?
The Japanese public is already using social media at the highest level, with very high social media penetration throughout the country. Twitter is especially popular, with Japan holding record breaking numbers for Twitter traffic. So naturally social media is already important for Tokyo 2020 and the Cool Japan campaign will involve wide international engagement on social media.

Already, the official government account disseminates important messages. Shinzo Abe is a regular Tweeter. Japan aims to take a multilayered approach to social media, so working with bloggers will be another important tool in the Japanese campaign. In the past, especially just after the tsunami disaster, the Foreign Ministry invited prominent bloggers to visit Japan and see for themselves what Japan was doing to fix the situation. Some of the bloggers were first-time visitors to Japan. The government wanted to communicate the disaster and the true situation on the ground to the outside world using various means, not all of them official. This of course helps to present a less biased more transparent overview.

What is the biggest challenge for Japan in nation branding?
In Japan’s case, the country is rather unusual because it has not been part of Western society and does not have English as its main language. So there are many cultural differences/misinterpretations to be overcome. This is one of the major challenges for Japan’s nation branding efforts, and we will need to address it thoroughly in the run-up to 2020. We plan to invite Western professors and advisors to Japan to help with the cultural understanding elements of branding Japan for the outside world.

The legacy of Fukushima is another major challenge for us. The disaster may have undermined people’s faith in Japan’s approach to safety, so we need to work hard to combat this perception. The Prime Minister is fully behind this and will make sure that Japan will be safe in time for 2020.